Ozeki Super Market in Sendai, Japan
Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I make an effort to visit a grocery store, because I always learn so much about the local culture, foods, language and currency by doing so. I first did this sort of by accident when I visited Budapest Hungary in September of 2014, simply because I needed to purchase drinking water. When I walked into the small market which was across the road from my hotel, I was fascinated by the different local foods which were on display. I also enjoyed observing other patrons as they conversed with the grocery store clerk.
I didn’t get a chance to visit a grocery store while abroad until 2020, when I traveled to Japan, but I managed to visit numerous grocery stores all over the country, so I was able to observe differences between prefectures. I also rather quickly noticed that bottles of sake were much cheaper than what I have seen in the States, while fresh produce was almost prohibitively expensive. As an example, I saw 4000 ml bottles of sake (that’s more than a gallon!) for 2199 yen, which is about $16.50 USD now. I also saw a baby watermelon at a market in Sendai which cost almost $12 USD (1580 Yen). Here are some fun images from my mini field trip to Ozeki Super Market.
I continued my exploration of foreign countries via visits to grocery stores when I traveled to Portugal and Thailand on separate trips in 2022. While in Portugal, I had to fend for myself for six days as a solo traveler, so I interspersed a few restaurant meals in Vila Nova de Gaia with some home-cooked meals which I prepared in the flat I rented. Once in Lisbon, however, I had to confine my grocery shopping to items which didn’t have to be cooked or heated up. I was fortunate enough to find an incredible garlic and herb goat cheese (queijo de cabra atabafado con alho y ervas) which was absolutely delicious, so I had several salads featuring arugula, cucumber, and olive oil with that magical cheese crumbled in.
I also found some delicious branzino fillets and gernika peppers which I prepared a couple of times in the flat, and also found a delightful vinho verde which was a perfect accompaniment to my meals. Though the trek to and from the grocery store was punctuated by a one mile uphill walk to the market, and a return walk encumbered by the heavy grocery bags in my hands and also in my backpack, I happily did it three times during my stay in Vila Nova de Gaia. I did struggle with the Portuguese language while at the checkstand, but somehow survived the experience and actually enjoyed the adventure.
Agua con gas (sparkling water), roasted gernika peppers, baked branzino, arugula and goat cheese salad
When I went to Thailand with my cousin in September of last year, we were intent on finding grocery stores both in Chiang Mai and on Koh Samui so that we could purchase wine and snacks for our hotel suites. We were able to find two very well stocked markets in both regions, but since we had no access to microwaves or stoves, we couldn’t purchase food items which had to be cooked. I did, however, come up with an emergency meal idea while shopping for food on Koh Samui, in case we found ourselves trapped in our suite for whatever reason. As it turned out, one day presented itself with a heavy downpour, so we were indeed trapped inside our hotel room for a portion of the day. I grabbed the emergency meal items and put them together for a healthy meal, pictured below.
Cold tofu with cucumbers, soy sauce, and chili pepper flakes
After my experiences shopping in grocery stores while traveling abroad, I am firmly convinced that one’s travel experience can be greatly enhanced by going grocery shopping. It’s a fantastic way to learn a great deal about a foreign country.